The Minnesota Wild are in Chicago to take on the Blackhawks in game five of their Stanley Cup Playoff Conference Semi-Final series. The Wild are flying high after a pair of victories in St. Paul to even the series at two game apiece. Puck drop is at 8:00 pm Central Time at the United Center. This is THE opportunity for the Minnesota Wild to take control of this series by winning a game in the United Center. So far in the first four games the home team has won every game. It’s high time the Wild break that trend by winning a road game and a series before game 7. The key to that is a dominant performance on the road NOW. The Wild have the players, the ability, the coaching staff and the drive to get the job done.
This edition of the Minnesota Wild has become a very good team. I’m not sure where this team was earlier in the season when they were average with flashes of good to excellent play. They have more goal scorers in the Stanley Cup Playoffs than any other team. 16 different players have lit the lamp for the Wild in 11 games this post season. I’ll let that sink in for a moment. Additionally a total of 18 players have a least a point led by Zach Parise‘s 14 pts. (4g, 10a).
One key to the Wild’s success in game four was the return of Matt Cooke. he assisted on the teams first goal starting with a tenacious forecheck, a steal and a smooth pass to Justin Fontaine for the score. He also led the team in hits with 5 of the 22 total. The physical play of the Minnesota checking lines and defense have kept Chicago from having room in which to work. Letting players such as Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp get free is a recipe for disaster. Hossa especially, as he has totaled 8 points so far in this series.
Another key to the Minnesota Wild’s success so far in the Stanley Cup Playoffs has been scoring from the defense. The Minnesota defenders have totaled 7 goals and 12 assists. Ryan Suter leads in points with 7 (1g, 6a) and Jared Spurgeon, known as “The Spurgeon General” on the NHL Network, leads in goals with 3 and is second in points with 5 (3g, 2a). So far over the two series 5 of 7 defenseman have picked up points. That’s a great addition to the threat of scoring from all four forward lines. The defense needs to keep chipping in on offense to maintain the balanced scoring threat that has the Blackhawks on their heels at this point in the series.
The forward lines for tonight are going to be the same as last game. That will only last until Head Coach Mike Yeo starts shuffling lines based on player performance or lack thereof. Last game the Wild picked up goals from the third, first, and second lines along with one from the defense. That’s what the Minnesota Wild need tonight to beat the Blackhawks on their home ice where they are 5-0 whit season. Conversely Minnesota is 1-5 on the road with the only victory being game 7 at Colorado. Once again the first goal is going to be critical. To date the team scoring first has won each game in the series. The forward lines for tonight are:
The only change to the defensive pairings is the return of Nate Prosser to the lineup in place of Keith Ballard. Ballard was boarded from behind by Brandon Bollig late in the second period of Friday’s game four. Ballard suffered what the team calls an upper body injury. It’s pretty apparent to all that it’s a probable concussion and his return for any part of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs is questionable. Bollig has been suspended for games five and six of the series for his dirty hit on Ballard. Prosser has 9 games so far in the two series and I like his hard checking, abrasive style of play. He’s a great fit with Clayton Stoner on the third pairing. The Minnesota Wild defensive pairings today are:
In goal once again will be Ilya Bryzgalov. He’s improved his Stanley Cup Playoff record this year to 3-4 and upped his save % to .866 his goals against average has dropped to 2.91. While those aren’t great numbers they have improved greatly over the last two game in St. Paul where he allowed just 2 goals over two games while making 37 saves on 39 shots. Bryzgalov is going to have to be hot in net again tonight against a fired up Blackhawks squad playing on home ice where they scored 9 goals over the first two games of the series.
The Minnesota need to come out strong and weather a big push Chicago is likely to make early in the game. The first goal is going to be big as is the play of the Wild’s special teams. They’ve scored a power play goal in each of the last two games. The penalty kill has been perfect since game one where they allowed a pair of power play goals to the Blackhawks dangerous power play. Winning the special teams battle will go a long way toward a victory tonight.
You can watch all the action starting at 8:00 Central Time (CT) on CNBC. Radio as usual be will be KFAN 100.3 starting with pregame at 8:00o pm CT. Fox Sports North will also have an hour long pre and post game shows with the later starting at 8:00pn CT. I’ll be back after the game with a recap and more. Until then this is Scott Drain still chanting, “Craw-ford, Craw-ford, Craw-ford!!” and shouting, “Let’s go Wild!!”